There have been plenty of signs so far from the Coalition side that they know the election is lost and the strategy is about minimising the damage. Labor, on the other hand, has been trying hard to avoid the impression of overconfidence, but news at the weekend suggests that it too now regards the government’s fate as a foregone conclusion.
The news was that Labor and the Greens are on the verge of concluding a preference deal, in which Labor would preference the Greens ahead of other minor parties in the Senate, in return for Greens preferences in marginal seats outside of Tasmania.
Prior to last week, the word from Labor was that it was more interested in an agreement with Family First, believing (with some cause) that its preferences would be more useful in the lower house (since, although the Greens have far more votes, most of them would be going to Labor anyway).
But the price of preferences from the Assemblies of God party would have been Labor preferencing them in the Senate. Labor’s failure to stitch up such a deal is a sign that the lower house is no longer much of an issue, and its focus now is more on getting its future legislation through the Senate.
Labor cannot win a Senate majority in its own right; its best-case scenario is a narrow Labor-plus-Greens majority. The deal with the Greens is designed to maximise the chance of that happening. Giving preferences to Family First would directly threaten Labor’s Senate position, since an extra Family First senator could conceivably get up at the expense of the Greens — as happened in 2004 in Victoria.
Some commentators are still understating Labor’s chances. Tim Colebatch in this morning’s Age gives a careful analysis of the Senate position, but he says that “The best Rudd can hope for is for that the Coalition might lose enough seats to enable the Senate balance of power to be shared widely”.
On the contrary, Labor will certainly need the Greens; the question is whether it will need anyone else as well. To avoid having to rely on Steve Fielding or Nick Xenophon, it wants the Greens to win a seat in at least two of Victoria, NSW and the ACT.
Colebatch is dismissive of that chance, pointing out that “in Victoria, for example, it would take a swing of more than 7% for the Coalition to lose its third seat.” That’s quite true, but since the last Newspoll state breakdown showed an 11% swing in Victoria, it’s hardly out of the ballpark.